Cell phones and the internet brought a considerable part of the developing world, including much of Africa, into the digital age and allowed many countries to bypass expensive landline and other infrastructure development. In many of these Global South countries, they are using technology to build a more inclusive financial sector and create entrepreneurial opportunities for their citizens including Port Of Harlem reader and Nigerian mobile banking agent Tony Izu.
“Agents have come to make banking easy in Nigeria and I am happy to be part of bringing banking services to un-banked Nigerians,” says Izu, a native of Imo, one of the 36 states in Nigeria. The Shared Agent Network Expansion Facilities (SANEF), an initiative of the Central Bank of Nigeria, has a goal of including 40 million low income, un-banked, and underserved Nigerians into the financial system.
Instead of building costly bank facilities across the country, SANEF provides an array of support services to accelerate the expansion of financial services to underserved communities largely through agents. The agents, like Izu, also accelerate the spreading of financial literacy.
Victor Olojo, national president of the Association of Mobile Money and Bank Agents in Nigeria (AMMBAN), says, “Looking back over the past five years that AMMBAN started, we are happy to say that we have witnessed meaningful gain in the industry.” According to Olojo, SANEF has recorded 700,000 mobile money and banking agents spread across the world’s most populous African nation.
Despite agent banking growth, Nigeria is still behind its peers in mobile money. “Ghana, Ivory Coast, and Senegal are doing much better,” says Akinwale Goodluck, Head of Global System for Mobile Communications in Sub-Saharan Africa, as reported in Business Day, Nigeria’s leader in business and financial news.
Goodluck reasons that Nigeria trails other countries because their system requires almost all of its customers to have a bank account. Kenya’s system, M-Pesa, is mobile money and enables users to pay for goods and services with their mobile phones, which serves as a wallet, without having to have a bank account. With mobile money, “your wallet sits on your phone. You are able to do your transactions without owning a proper bank account,” says Goodluck.